I first heard of Procida, the secret island in the bay of Naples as I like to think of it, when reading Elsa Morante’s novel “Arturo’s Island” at school. I’m ashamed to say that I never really thought of it as a place worth traveling to, especially since it’s often overshadowed by the more popular and glamorous islands of Capri and Ischia nearby. But then I decided to give it a chance and guys, what a discovery!
The little island of Procida (it covers an area of 4 square meters only!) has managed to retain its own unique character and genuine fishing-village charm despite being located in the bay of Naples, an area full of famous tourist spots like Capri and Ischia. It just seems that the island and its inhabitants are completely unconcerned with the passage of time and trends.
Forget luxurious hotels, Michelin-star restaurants, and designer clothing stores. Just close your eyes and imagine pastel-colored houses, lush gardens with lemon groves hidden behind high walls, clothes hanging out to dry along tiny roads and alleys so narrow that you literally have to press yourself to the wall when cars pass by… And then picture yourself enjoying a lazy lunch of freshly caught fish, with the warm sun on your face and the view of tiny fishing boats floating in the sea and old fishermen chatting and mending their nets. I hope you get the picture!
Of course, this doesn’t mean that Procida is only about tranquillity and relaxation, as there are actually some interesting places to explore. Here’s what’s not to be missed.
Terra Murata is the highest point in Procida (90 meters) and boasts a medieval fortification that was once the heart of the island. This part of Procida is dominated by Palazzo d’Avalos, an ancient building with a fascinating history that saw it serving as a royal palace for the Bourbons and then used as a prison until just a few decades ago. The site has been recently opened to the public and tickets can be purchased on the website of the municipality of Procida. At the top of the promontory sits the Church of Santa Margherita Nuova, from where you can see spectacular views over the bay of Naples. The highlight of Terra Murata is the Abbey of San Michele, Procida’s patron saint, which was built by Benedictine monks in the 11th century. Once inside, you can enjoy the many artistic representations of San Michele, a library full of old manuscripts, an ancient burial ground on the basement and a unique nativity scene made with local oyster shells.
Next to the abbey is Palazzo della Cultura, which houses the Museum Casa di Graziella on the second floor. This museum offers an insight into the traditional life on the island in the 19th century through the reconstruction of the house of Graziella, the heroine of the beautiful love story written by the French author Alphonse De Lamartine in 1852. Have a look at the little room full of vintage textiles up for sale next to the reception desk before leaving the museum – a real treasure trove!
From Terra Murata you can walk downhill to Piazza dei Martiri and then follow the path near the church of San Rocco that leads down to Marina Corricella, one of Procida’s oldest settlements and its most charming spot. Corricella is a pedestrian fishing village characterized by an intricate string of colorful little houses literally built one upon the other and a bunch of quaint restaurants and bars overlooking the harbor. This area served as a set for various movies, including The Talented Mr. Ripley and Oscar-winning Il Postino.
Back to the main road, follow Corso Vittorio Emanuele and look for the path leading down to Chiaia. This long, sandy stretch of beach has shallow waters and good natural protection against wind and waves, making it ideal for children. There are good facilities here, including La Conchiglia, one of the restaurants often suggested by guidebooks (I personally didn’t try it, though).
If you head south, you’ll reach Chiaiolella, Procida’s most popular beach (don’t worry, it’s difficult to pronounce even for an Italian!). It features a small marina with some fancy boats and yachts and a good selection of bars and restaurants, as well as attractive views of Ischia and Vivara, an islet of volcanic origin which is connected to Procida by a small pedestrian bridge and was declared a State Natural Reserve in 2002. Chiaiolella lies next to another famous beach, Ciraccio, from which is separated by two big rock formations called “faraglioni”.
Another spot worth visiting is the beach of Pozzo Vecchio, in the north-western part of the island. This is a quiet and relaxed bay also known as “Spiaggia del Postino” because some scenes of the movie The Postman (Il Postino) were filmed here. The family-run bar Annamaria offers some light snacks, as well as sun-beds and umbrellas in the summer. Come here in the afternoon and you’ll enjoy some spectacular sunsets.
The economic hub of Procida is Marina Grande, the main port where all ferries and boat tours arrive and small buses and taxis depart to take you around the island. Most of the offices and shops are located here and there’s also a pretty piazza overlooked by the bright yellow Church of Santa Maria della Pietà, known as “Sailors’ Church”. You can have a swim at Lingua Beach, just a stone’s throw from the piazza, or browse the artisan shops that dot via Roma and via Vittorio Emanuele, Procida’s main streets. Just an interesting tidbit – Elsa Morante wrote her famous book at number 225 in via Vittorio Emanuele during her stay at Pensione Eldorado in the Fifties (sadly, the place is now closed).
You can see pretty much everything in a day, but I strongly recommend staying overnight to fully enjoy the magical atmosphere of the island by night. I think Procida is best explored by foot, with something to discover around every corner, but you can also move around using local buses – just keep an open mind when it comes to timetables!
- Procida is easy to reach from Naples, either by ferry from Porta di Massa (about an hour) or by hydrofoil from Molo Beverello (about 40 min.). Check out the timetables and ticket prices on the SNAV and Caremar websites.
- I spent two nights on the island and stayed at Hotel La Corricella, a charming refurbished fisherman’s house nestled in Marina Corricella. Rooms are simple and cozy and there is a fantastic terrace with spectacular views over the little marina.
- The local transport system is based on 4 routes – pretty impressive for such a tiny island, isn’t it? Check out Procida local bus website for details on timetables and prices.
- If you are a foodie like me, then you will be spoilt with choices in Procida. I tried La Locanda del Postino (super fresh and tasty fish dishes), Bar Ristorante Graziella (spaghetti with lemon and anchovies to die for!), Pizzeria Fuego (if you crave some pizza after all that fish, then this is the place to go) and La Panetteria (a fantastic bakery where you can try, among other delicacies, the famous local sweet treat lingua di bue).
- Grab a copy of “Arturo’s Island” or “Graziella” at Libreria Nutrimenti, a lovely bookshop on via Roma (in Marina Grande). The stories of these characters will foster your memories of this beautiful Italian island once back home.
Until next time,